Is this the start of what we call ‘a world dominated by robots’?

Apparently not. The Sony Aibo is a $3000 robot dog which is full of charms and filled with infectious energy. It’s adorable and quite cute to look at compared to the first attempt of Sony’s robot dog. Packed with an array of sensors and cameras to replicate the actions of an actual dog.

Sony Aibo

Okay, so the Sony Aibo won’t be replacing any actual dogs anytime soon. But Aibo will definitely help in upping the playtime quotient. Also, compared to its four-legged furred cousin, the Aibo won’t ruin your carpets or whine for food. However, if you do not treat it with love and provide it with training, it’s liable to ignore your commands too!

So, Aibo is one smart AI-based robot dog – smartest of what technology has to offer right now. It can blink eyes, wag its tail and even yawn like a regular dog. But it’s not yet capable enough to wake you up in the morning with wet kisses. But Aibo is smart – its array of cameras and sensors allow it to learn its surroundings, walk around the house, recognise up to 100 faces and behave accordingly etc.

Sony Aibo

The Sony Aibo works based on the cloud. It connects to wifi uses the cloud to save the data based on its actions. So, if you believe a robot dog armed with cameras walking in the house and saving data to the cloud is blatantly invading privacy? Well, no. All the data is saved on the cloud by the dog is its interactions with different people, their faces, the measurements of the room like the distance between the walls and other rooms etc. All this data helps Aibo grow and evolve eventually. Aibo’s personality evolves the more you live with it. That progress is backed up to the cloud. And if you’re still paranoid about privacy, you have the option to delete all the data from the cloud and reset Aibo to start fresh.

The Aibo has some pretty neat tricks under its collar. The robot-dog can recognise 50 different voice commands and phrases, with a potential for more with updates. Some of the tricks are:

  • Shake hands
  • High five
  • Sit down
  • Play dead
  • Dance
  • Lay down
  • Kick his ball
  • Beg
  • Fetch his bone
  • Rollover
  • Sing
  • Take a photo
  • Go to the charging station

The Sony Aibo can also learn custom tricks. You can move the front paws in the pattern you want – sort of making your own doggie dance moves. Sony has claimed that the new tricks and features are in development, so the current roster of preprogrammed tricks are not static.

The owners will be able to teach Aibo new skills through an app. It can also go pee-pee – an action where Aibo lifts up his hind leg and make a peeing sound (though nothing actually leaks out). Also, Aibo doesn’t need you to say his name before you say a command. That’s different from other voice assistants that require you to use a wake-word like “Alexa” or “Hey, Google” before giving your statement. Apparently, it will take your Aibo about a year to “fully mature” and become more loyal and obedient. So an impatient, irresponsible child may not be the best choice for raising an Aibo.

Sony Aibo

The Sony Aibo has touch sensors on its head, beneath its chin and on its back. So when you pet one, it will react with obvious pleasure, closing its eyes and leaning into the petting. And the Aibo may feel as energetic as most small dogs, but it doesn’t move as fast as one. When it walks towards you, it moves at a languid speed, its leg movements distinctly robotic. So playing ‘catch’ isn’t really the best game to play with Aibo, thanks to its plodding pace.  

Eventually, Sony Aibo will memorize faces and voices and will be more likely to obey commands or react happily to those who spend the most time with it.

When you’re not interacting with it, Aibo will wander the rooms of your house in “watchdog” mode, scanning for intruders – though it wasn’t at all clear what Aibo would do if it found someone it didn’t recognize.

The Sony Aibo is a charming creation – may be the best we have like a robot dog. But it’s quite expensive at the moment and at $3000, not everyone can afford. And of course, it will never be as satisfying as playing with a real puppy that can love you back. But this isn’t meant to replace real pets with robots (you can’t), or to see if Aibo can be as good as a real dog (he won’t). That’s not the point of Aibo. Rather, Sony’s creation shows us how far a robot can go to offer entertainment and companionship. And in that benchmark, it far exceeds anything ever experienced before in robotics.

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